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Major environmental stories of December 2013

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For the first time in 15 years, the United States added more solar power to its grid than Germany has, according to the GTM Research and Solar Energy Industries Association. During the third quarter of the year alone, the U.S. installed 930 megawatts (MW) of solar panels on their homes. Until now, Germany has been the world leader in solar panel installation. The residential market for solar panels has shown particularly strong growth. The prices of solar panels have also been falling, with the typical solar system costing $3.00 per watt; last year it cost $3.59 per watt.

According to Energinet, Denmark's national grid operator, wind power has produced 30% of gross power consumption in 2013. That includes the 90-plus hours during which wind produced all the electrical power Denmark needed, most notably 2 a.m. on Oct 28, when wind provided 122% of Denmark's electrical needs. Denmark plans to get 50% more wind by 2020, and Energinet predicts the country may have as many as 1000 hours of power surplus. Denmark ultimately plans to phase out fossil fuels altogether by 2050.

Ethiopia announced its intentions to increase its power generation from 2000 MW to 10,000 MW, with an emphasis on green energy sources. The Ethiopian government, with help from the Chinese, analyzed the country's green energy potential. The results indicate that Ethiopia has an annual total solar energy reserve of 2.199 million terawatt hours, with a terawatt equaling 1 trillion watts or 1 million MW. Ethiopia's potential for wind energy 1,350 gigawatts per year, with a gigawatt being 1 billion watts or 1 thousand MW. The Ethiopian government plans to increase the number of households with access to green energy from 16% to 80%. It also plans to provide electricity to over 1,500 towns and villages a year.

Warren Buffett's utility company, MidAmerican Energy Holdings, ordered $1 billion dollars' worth of wind turbines for five projects in Iowa. It ordered 448 turbines from the German company Siemens. Turbine prices have fallen 26% worldwide since 2009, making wind power nearly as inexpensive as coal. In Iowa, however, wind is the cheapest source of power.

The French Parliament adopted a 2014 budget which includes a tax on carbon emissions from gas, coal, and heating oil. It mainly targets transport fuels and domestic heating. Money from the tax will go to installing renewable energy projects throughout the country in order to reduce emissions. Carbon will be taxed at a rate of 7 Euros ($9.51) per tonne (1.1 tons) in 2014 and then increase to 14.5 Euros ($19.69) per tonne in 2015.

Scotland announced plans to get all of its energy from renewable sources by 2020. Last year, it got 40% of its electricity from renewables and plans to increase that to 50% by 2015. About 12% of Scotland's power currently comes from hydro-electric. Solar, wave, and wind power also provide increasing shares of Scotland's electricity. By contrast, the percentage of power coming from nuclear plants has declined from 50% to 34%, and the Scottish government does not plan to build any more new nuclear plants.

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